There’s a new scholarship in her name: The Marjorie Caisley Conservation Engineering Scholarship for Women
Let’s support more fish passage and fish restoration engineers.
There’s a new scholarship in her name: The Marjorie Caisley Conservation Engineering Scholarship for Women
Let’s support more fish passage and fish restoration engineers.
My friend Margie died of cancer this summer. She was glorious: insightful, funny as hell, kind. She was the DFW Fish Passage engineer for the north state, including the Scott and Shasta Rivers. She designed and reviewed restoration and fish passage projects, adamantly requiring that they be sound and effective. She did fieldwork up on the Scott and Shasta rivers most of the summer. She thought she had the perfect job.
She also thought that fish management up on the Scott and Shasta Rivers was a clusterfuck. She would tell me stories about the situation up there; basically the agriculture is cattle in irrigated pastures along the river. Irrigation was pretty much a dam across the river to stack up the water high enough to flood the adjacent pasture. She asked me one day if I knew what a push-up dam was. I thought I knew all the kinds of dams, but I’d never heard of a push-up dam. A push-up dam is when you get out your tractor and drive up the middle of the river, pushing all the gravels into a dam. DFW was trying to change that by building them modern diversion facilities, which is better than push-up dams in the river, but not nearly as good for salmon as buying out the cattle and ending the ranching.
Margie came to believe that DFW had abandoned its responsibilities to the salmon up there. Our animus toward DFW Director Chuck Bonham started with the Scott and Shasta River Programmatic Agreement. (Which is how we knew, even before the Voluntary Agreements, that he would gladly sacrifice fish for a political score.) She thought the DFW wardens were too cozy with the irrigators. She thought the Scott and Shasta Rivers were politically neglected because they are so remote.
It didn’t surprise me to find out that the Friends of the Shasta River were pleading with regulators to enforce their curtailment orders on the Shasta River. The same people who have always taken the Shasta River to irrigate pasture to graze some cattle were doing it again, defying the drought curtailments. In this drought, it meant insufficient flow in the riverbed for salmon.
I am late to the story; It looks like the week of illegal diversions is over. The Shasta River Water Association had decided it was worth the penalties to water their cows and stopped when they’d filled their stockponds. I notice a few things:
I haven’t been to either the Scott River or Shasta River. I would love to and I would love to see my friend’s work there. Even more than that, I’d love to see salmon swimming up through a culvert she got replaced or resting in boulder weirs she reviewed and approved. She spent her career giving salmon whatever chance she could create. Even rigorously designed diversions and restoration projects aren’t enough; salmon will always need sufficient water too. I’ll miss Margie until I die. I wish I could believe that salmon in California will outlive us both.
I saw this description of Abundance Progressivism with great relief. I was delighted for a name for my position. It also explained to me why I’ve been irritated with the “tear out your lawn” school of water conservation in this drought.
Over the past few years, I have increasingly come to the position that we must create the improved next climate world before we eliminate the things we can no longer sustain. This is based on a few things:
But, you may ask, where will we get the money to provide abundance to all? There are sophisticated answers like ‘many of these things are actually cost-beneficial when you account for everything’, but my short term answer is “from the hoards of billionaires and from military and cop budgets.” I dream of the day when our government suddenly decides those are pure low-entropy stocks and plunders them like every other low-entropy natural resource.
In the scheme of things, water conservation isn’t even a major player in creating a new low-carbon life that feels abundant and lovely. But the dynamics are all the same. There are literal billionaires sitting on great volumes of hoarded water while the majority of Californians are being denied abundance and asked for scarcity-driven effort. I want the entire governance mindset to flip to creating low-carbon societal abundance, which could well mean cool, green, lovely urban landscapes in California.
[I will add that that I don’t love the implied competition between movement and abundance progressive wings in the linked article. I think they are both great I hope they partner to seize the means of production and lead us into a glorious low-carbon future.]
Yesterday Max Gomberg had his last day at the State Water Resources Control Board. He sent this on his last day, and cc’ed me. With his permission:
I am sharing my parting thoughts because I believe in facing hard truths and difficult decisions. These are dark and uncertain times, both because fascists are regaining power and because climate change is rapidly decreasing the habitability of many places. Sadly, this state is not on a path towards steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, massive construction to alleviate the housing crisis, quickly and permanently reducing agriculture to manage the loss of water to aridification, and reducing law enforcement and carceral budgets and reallocating resources to programs that actually increase public health and safety. All of these (and more) are necessary for an equitable and livable future. I think at some level many of you know this, yet you convince yourselves that inhabiting the middle ground between advocates and industry (and other status quo defenders) makes you reasonable. But it does not. It makes you complicit.
To my Water Board colleagues:
Witnessing the agency’s ability to tackle big challenges nearly eviscerated by this Administration has been gut wrenching. The way some of you have simply rolled over and accepted this has also been difficult to watch. However, your commitment to racial equity is a reason for optimism. A tremendous amount of time and effort is going into creating a meaningful action plan and that is worthy of praise. But, following through on those commitments means leaning into conflict. Some of you need to dig deep and find your moral compass. If you cannot do that you should step aside and let others lead.
Over a decade of working for this Board I have had the privilege of working with dedicated and caring people on important policies, and for that I am grateful. Together we have advanced safe, accessible, and affordable water for marginalized communities, reduced urban water waste, and forced conversations about equity within the climate resilience discourse.
I will continue rooting for those of you willing to fight for people and environment against industry, the right-wing death cult, and status-quo defenders. Raise your voice, express dissent, organize together, and use all of the tools at your disposal. And if you ever need a pep talk, I’ll be there.
In appreciation and solidarity,
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
This is a wonderful letter; I admire it. I recognize the frustration and pain that drove Mr. Gomberg to write it. He’s right. As a state, we are not taking the actions we need to reduce present and future misery. In our field, the Newsom administration is hobbling the agencies while claiming progress. I don’t know whether it concerns the appointeds at the executive level, but the gap between the obvious necessary work and their vast timidity has taken a real toll on staff morale.
My state water agency has an unspoken internalized mandate that nothing we do can lead to conflict or the admission that policy changes will create losers. We will let existing injustices and suffering for lack of water exist forever, so long as any real-world pains aren’t because of something we touched or changed or did. This means that poor people (farmworker communities, the homeless) and the voiceless (fish, creatures, rivers) have been and will be neglected into extinction while the agency studies and models and creates decision frameworks.
As Mr. Gomberg states, the Newsom administration has been unusually timid and conflict averse, even reversing the small progress brought about by Felicia Marcus’s Board at the end of the Brown administration. I do not know whether the water executives in this administration will eventually feel ashamed of their role in the State’s refusal to do what we all need. I am deeply petty, so I hope so. Either way they will certainly be understood to have done nothing when much was required. It is already evident and noted. If the internal dissonance becomes too much, Mr. Gomberg demonstrates perhaps the only way out of the trap of the Newsom administration: a noisy resignation.
I spent much of 2015 urging the State Board to issue a moratorium on planting new almonds (although I myself was too timid. I said to only restrict them in gw basins with declining water levels, although that is all of them so maybe that argues against my timidity). Yesterday I wrote that had they done that, they’d look prescient now. But in that counterfactual, I do not think we could have estimated the policy success.
In 2015, CA almond acreage was 1,110,000 acres. (3.3MAF/year)
In 2021, CA almond acreage was 1,640,000 acres. (4.9MAF/year. This is a low estimate, btw. I’ve seen ETAW up near 5af/acreyear for almonds in the south Valley.)
We would have 1.6MAF available to us this year* if the State Board had issued a moratorium on planting new tree crops in 2015, when it was abundantly clear that we have bad droughts. In the counterfactual, we’d be grateful for the flexibility, but I don’t think we would ever have guessed that without a moratorium those fuckers would go and plant another half million acres of almonds. (I notice that this increased acreage is about 30%, the same size as this year’s harvest carryover. It would have prevented the volume of unshippable almonds.) This doesn’t count the cumulative consumption of those trees over the years.
There are about 7,600 almond farmers in California, who use up one Shasta Reservoir every year (4.5MAF). Yes. We let 7,600 almond growers use three times the water of 19 million people in Southern California. We could do that, or MWD could get three times its current deliveries (1.5MAF) each year. Or we could have full rivers.
I know these are excruciating decisions for the State Board, or they would be if the State Board were confronting them. Water use decisions are land use decisions (and vice versa). It would require making choices based on values (I propose ‘make the most people the most happy’, but there are others). But we are reaching the breaking point; we are at such a blatant extreme that people are rebelling against conservation messages from a timid administration. Fuck shorter showers. Fuck an individual response. Fix things for Californians or Californians will fix it for themselves.
*We know this is wet water because those trees are alive. I don’t know how the growers are scrounging it (perhaps from other crops? very likely from groundwater) but no matter their official deliveries they’re getting it from somewhere or the trees would be dead. Huh. This reminds me of Arax’s profile of the Resnicks, in which Stuart Resnick felt safe from drought because the last one was so extreme and he felt another rare event wouldn’t happen again and I thought ‘who is advising him?’. Anyway, wonder how that is going for Mr. Resnick.
When I observe that we are holding 2MAF of 2021 and 2022 water in stored almonds, I have some thoughts.
After creating a pleasant vision of Californians having healthy rivers and a pleasant urban existence, there is of course the courage required to bring that about. But we aren’t even failing at the courage stage. We are failing because we have forgotten how to imagine a system that gives Californians a small sweet life**.
*Original observation from Kaitlyn Greenidge.
**This is an even stronger phenomenon in other fields, like housing and transportation. It applies in CA water as well.
You may not know that the California almond industry has been unable to ship its almonds for two years (almonds used to be shipped to China in returning empties; the past two years ships aren’t willing to wait at port long enough to fill up with almonds). Last year, 20% of CA almonds were held in storage for lack of shipping. This year, the prediction is that 30% of CA almonds will be held over. Let’s do some fun math and then do some fun context. For this exercise, we will be b.o.t.e. people, content with a first approximation. It will not be so inaccurate as to change the conclusion, which is likely to involve swearing.
Almond bearing acreage is 1,370,000 acres.
2021: 20% of 1,370,000 acres is 274,000 acres.
2022: 30% of 1,370,000 acres is 411,000 acres.
I would normally say that any crop needs 3.5af/a-year to grow and prevent soil salinity buildup, but lets say that almonds are all on drip and super-efficient. I’ll grant them 3af/a-year. Oooh! This is exciting.
2021: 274,000 acres * 3af/a-year is 822,000 acre-feet last year.
2022: 411,000 acres * 3af/a-year is 1,233,000 acre-feet this year.
As a side note, if the almond industry were at full exports, that would be 68% of its crop.
1,370,000acres *.68 * 3af/a-year = 2,794,800af-year. To be clear, growing almonds means (3af/a-year*1,370,000) the full 4,110,000 af (more than Oroville Reservoir (3.5MAF), almost a Shasta Reservoir (4.5 MAF)) are not available to Californians to do other things. But of that 4.1MAF, 2.8MAF are shipped away from California in the form of almonds. That’s more than Trinity Reservoir (2.5MAF). If we ended almond exports, we would return one Trinity Reservoir to the people of California. But let’s return to the almonds that can’t even be sold in 2021 and 2022, these Years of Our Drought. Time for the fun context!
2021: 0.82MAF converted to stored almonds.
2022: 1.2MAF converted to stored almonds.
MWD delivers 1.57MAF/average year. (4,300af/day*365days) MWD could have nearly twice as much water this year instead of having stored almonds. That’s two watering days/week. With some deep mulch, my father might have been able to have a vegetable garden for his fifty-first year of gardening.
We could have a filled Folsom Lake (1.1MAF) and done some salinity and temperature control in the Delta. But instead we have stored almonds.
We could do 1.5 of the mythical “800,000AF for the environment” that reappears every five years. But instead we have stored almonds.
In these two drought years, we would have had at least 2MAF more if almonds were not a permanent crop, and could be flexed to fit the market conditions. I’ll do another post for the conclusions, but maybe you guys could do some contexting of your own in the comments! Please observe the format.
It is actually a problem that the Newsom water administration
are a bunch of goal-less fuckscannot articulate a clear vision for what California water should do. If we do not develop a clear new vision, we will keep operating from the old vision. That vision was clear as day. It was to eliminate the original peoples of the state, to destroy everything wild, to mine any valuable stock and to “feed the world”. They knew what they wanted and they put our water system in place to achieve it. This is the water system we are currently operating and it is currently achieving the same goals.
We cannot tinker around the edges and get to a different end result. We’ve had four droughts since 2000’s and our water leaders are still clinging to “please can we scrounge up some more water so we can keep things the same.” They call it different things now, like “resilience”. But basically every powerful person in water is offering some version of ‘stretch water to get more of the same’. Lund, of course, is all about muddling through. Gleick is still hammering on ‘everyone conserve even more!’ The actual administration’s only vision is to get Newsom elected president so they can go do some awesome resiliencing at the national level. We’ve got non-profits training up leaders, perhaps in the hope that one of them will have a vision. It is a shame that our bunch of brilliant lawyers spent all that time on a report with a bunch of tweaks to help us limp through. Brains the size of planets and that’s all they gave us.
The reason this lack of vision and imagination matters is that things suck out here and no one in Water is offering virtually every Californian anything good. Because we literally cannot imagine any other system (such as tripling the water available to urban CA by shrinking ag), all we have to offer people is more joyless conscientiousness. We’ve just lived through two years of joyless conscientiousness for pandemic reasons. Now we’re telling people they need to prolong their joyless conscientiousness for drought? No wonder they’re ignoring us.
My father in southern California has had a vegetable garden for fifty straight years. This is the first year since 1972 that he isn’t gardening, because he’ll be on one-day-a-week watering and veggies wouldn’t make it. There was a Twitter thread last week mocking residents in Thousand Oaks for worrying about their koi ponds. But you know what? Vegetable gardening and watching koi ponds are lovely low-carbon activities. Degrowth is the only pleasant way to decarbonize left to us. But if we want people to trust us that degrowth isn’t just some rich white bullshit, we have to prove to them that we care about their quality of life. We have to prove to people that we understand what makes urban life nice (ponds and gardens and local nature, partially supported by some water (and a whole lot of other housing and transportation stuff)) and that they can keep it even through a degrowth transition. We have to prove that before we ask people to move away from a consumption-based life. We have to show that degrowth will mean long sweet evenings, not infinitely nagging people to use less and do better.
We could do that. There is and will be enough water in California to have a couple million acres of regenerative agriculture to feed all the Californians and have healthy living rivers and have urban Californians have a slice of the Californian dream: a yard with flowers, maybe veggies, and a fruit tree. But we can’t get there from a system designed to kill all California natives, extract every resource, destroy every wild thing and feed the world. We could do it with a new system designed to make the most Californians content and minimize the misery of climate change. But first we’d have to imagine it.
Yesterday I watched the CA Planning and Conservation League’s panel of law school profs releasing their recommendations for improving CA water law. Naturally I wish they had been bolder, but they likely anchored their starting point in currently existing law and that’ll drag you down. I’m not writing this to critique their report; rather I’d like to expose what appears to be engrained thought.
As an engineer, I had to laugh at the following contrast:
We appear to believe in an unexamined default, where the laws of physics require multi-decade adjudications and real-time data collection just appears in your phone. In reality it is exactly the opposite. Real-time gauging and data collection and presentation is really hard! Gauges on water bodies are physically far apart, far from roads; you have to have electronics that can handle outdoor conditions; animals and people tamper with them; they require energy sources; data transmission requires dedicated communications systems. It is physically difficult and expensive and requires fulltime maintenance. California should do it! But it is hard to install and maintain.
Adjudications are just information in a room. I personally was hired to duplicate a historic adjudication once, for reasons; it’s just records and spreadsheets. Adjudications are not more difficult than personnel and project management. We could do them as fast as we care to purchase. That’s the key, of course. Doing them extremely slowly favors the water users that have already grown rich in the status quo. The only reason they take decades is that current water users and administrations are fine with them taking decades.
I would like to point out that if an administration wants to get something done, they expand their capacity to do it. The last two administrations have very much wanted to do the PeripheralTunnelsConveyance and they have created an entire shadow agency to design it and do the permitting. That’s a full JPOA, bylaws, directors, staff, consultants and an EIR. An adjudication is not more work than that. They simply aren’t a priority equal to this administration’s priority for Delta conveyance.
The San Joaquin Valley big boys are trying to get an initiative onto the 2022 ballots. They call it More Water Now; the proposition is to designate 2% of the general fund for water projects until the new projects yield 5MAF. Here are a couple op-eds against it. Here is an advocate’s case for it. (I have to say. Don Wright is the best possible advocate for anything Big Ag wants. He is so painfully sincere in his belief that they’re doing a good thing.) I assume all the good governance people will hate this initiative for ballot-box budgeting. I assume that water people will hate it because it funds all the projects that can’t be built because the water they yield is too expensive, even after it does away with environmental protection. Fine, whatever.
You might think that I would be sputtering outraged at the sheer gall of the initiative backers. Designate 2% of California’s general fund, the money that all taxpayers put into the state, for water projects that would primarily serve rich farmers in the San Joaquin Valley? (Because you know the first thing they’ll propose is their disaster of a Water Blueprint.) You are right. I would be, if it were the first time I’ve seen this. But it isn’t! Those rich fucks proposed something even worse a year ago! Summer of 2020, the even worse proposal was a 0.5% tax increase on the eight San Joaquin counties. I was beside myself then. I only consoled myself by imagining that the 0.5% tax earned the eight counties a substantial share in all farm proceeds or perhaps outright ownership off all lands that took irrigation water from new water projects. Now that would justify a general tax increase.
I don’t know whether the More Water Now initiative will get on the ballot or pass. I’ve given up on predictions. But if we’re talking about initiatives, I have one to propose. I think we should pass an initiative that sets a rigorous priority for “reasonable use” (municipal>environmental>ag) and states that it is not reasonable to allow water right holders to take water if a higher priority isn’t fully served. I believe that would allow us to sidestep our disaster of a water rights system without being a taking, since water rights have always been subject to a reasonable use restriction. I think an initiative like that could pass readily, since it is pure self-interest for nearly all of the voters in CA. I hadn’t really understood the extent of people’s resentment towards almonds until I heard the applause on this Bill Maher segment. I had thought that you and I shared a refined, hand-crafted, artisan resentment, available only to connoisseurs of obscure blogs. But no. Seems like lots of Californians are ready to change our water rights system to something that works better for all of us. So if there’s gonna be an initiative, we can do a lot better than More Water Now.